Ashwagandha is an Indian name for the plant withania somnifera.
The roots are used Southeast Asia for increasing strength, and the practice is centuries old.
But Western Medicine and Big Pharma only aimed their focus in the last two decades.
And most of the research investigates the anticancer effects of the plant.
It’s potential as an anticancer treatment is in the illustration below.
Withaferin A is the primary alkaloid in ashwagandha, and it is a natural androgen.
Androgens are steroid hormones that are part of male sexuality — testosterone is an androgen.
And it’s the most active ingredient in the plant.
What’s fascinating is that discovery of ashwagandha’s steroid effect happened by accident.
Researchers were only trying to prove the compound is safe.
What they found was an increase in strength as they escalated the dose from 750 mg/day to 1250 mg/day.
Body fat decreased, and lean body mass (muscle) increased.
This study has also demonstrated muscle strengthening, lipid lowering, and improved quality of sleep in view of its traditional use as balya.
Balya is an Ayurvedic term to describe strength-promoting effects.
They also noted an increase in blood creatine levels and a slight reduction in blood sugar:
Creatine is an important molecule for muscle.
It helps to regenerate adenosine triphosphate (ATP) quickly thereby maintaining energy production for longer.
Adenosine triphosphate is a type of molecule that is part of muscle DNA.
This preliminary study spawned a more thorough study to investigate the effects of ashwagandha on muscle growth.
And this time they compared the results against a placebo group:
This study confirmed the preliminary data and more.
First, they noted an increase in both muscle size and strength over the placebo group.
Plus, they found it increased testosterone levels as well.
And they noted a greater reduction in body fat in the Ashwagandha group.
This study reports that ashwagandha supplementation is associated with significant increases in muscle mass and strength and suggests that ashwagandha supplementation may be useful in conjunction with a resistance training program.
So there are two physiological studies reporting the same androgenic effects in humans.
But what do the biochemical studies tell us?
Well, a routine examination revealed that it promotes the enzyme, 17β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (17β-HSD).
And that converts pre-testosterone into testosterone.
It increases the rate the body creates testosterone:
In turn, this process helps shift the balance towards lean body mass and away from a fat metabolism (lipogenesis).
Since the main alkaloid of ashwagandha is an anticancer agent, most biochemical studies deal with this part of the plant only.
But cancer prevention isn’t the only ashwagandha benefit.
Knowing that high estrogen can ultimately lead to cancer, researchers tested withaferin A against estrogen receptors.
This effect is due to suppression of ER-α mRNA level. Based on these results, WA [withaferin A] can be classified as an anti-estrogen.
It’s officially an anti-estrogen.
In another experiment, researchers put cells in a petri dish.
They treated one group with withaferin A and another group with a control solution.
Then they separated the proteins by a process called gel electrophoresis.
The researchers used antibodies to detect and stain them.
There was a marked reduction in the estrogen receptor in one of the cell lines:
The main estrogen receptor (ER-α) is something called a transcription factor — it’s is how estrogen exerts its effects.
Estrogen binds with ER-α and then it starts transcribing DNA, but not the DNA regions that you want.
Estrogen, working through ER-α, is the cause of gynecomastia.
It’s amazing when you realize that a simple plant compound has so much power.
And this one has phytosteroids which increase muscle size, raise testosterone, and downregulate the estrogen receptor alpha.
Plus, it has a long history of safety — hundreds of years.
In fact, in all of the studies I read, only one person experienced an adverse side-effect:
All but one volunteer tolerated WS [Withania somnifera] without any adverse event. One volunteer showed increased appetite, libido, and hallucinogenic effects with vertigo at the lowest dose and was withdrawn from the study.
So, out of hundreds of volunteers across all of these studies, only one had any sensitivity.
And luckily, the side effects were terrible or severe.
I think we can trust this one.
Bioactive withanolides from Withania obtusifolia
Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial
Withaferin A Suppresses Estrogen Receptor-α Expression in Human Breast Cancer Cells
Ashwagandha is the Indian name for the plant withania somnifera.The roots of this plant have been used in Southeast Asian countries for centuries, as it’s thought to increase strength.Western medicine and Big Pharma are playing catch up, and have only begun to seriously investigate the potential health benefits of ashwagandha, namely the anticancer effects.The primary alkaloid in ashwagandha is called withaferin A, which is a natural androgen. Androgens are steroid hormones which effect male sexuality. Testosterone, for example, is an androgen.In a study to measure the impact of ashwagandha, a whole host of positive health impacts were observed. Body fat decreased, muscle increased, blood creatine levels rose and blood sugar was found to be slightly reduced.The goes on: “[Ashwagandha] has also demonstrated muscle strengthening, lipid lowering, and improved quality of sleep.”This preliminary study was followed by a more thorough study to investigate the effects of ashwagandha on muscle growth, this time using a placebo group as a control for the experiment.“This report [shows] that ashwagandha supplementation is associated with significant increases in muscle mass and strength,” the study notes at one point, also noting that testosterone increased with supplementation.Let’s look at the anticancer effects of the chemical.Knowing that high estrogen can ultimately lead to cancer, researchers tested withaferin A against estrogen receptors. They quickly realized that it has the effect of suppressing estrogen, thereby mitigating cancer risk and defending against gynecomastia.It’s good that Westerners are finally catching up to the incredible benefits of this simple plant compound. Even better, in all the scientific studies conducted thus far, only one(!) person out of hundreds has reported any negative side effects. Even those weren’t life-threatening or long-term.I think we can safely trust ashwagandha.